When the ball is hit to Columbia College setter Nikolina Rastovac, opponents had better beware. She can do much more than set up her teammates.
The McKendree Bearcats learned that the hard way Thursday night. Rastovac passed, served and hit the Cougars to a 30-20, 30-22, 30-18 victory at Southwell Arena.
The Cougars, who have won two in a row since their home loss Saturday, improved to 22-5 and 7-0 in American Midwest Conference play. The loss dropped the second-place Bearcats to 13-10, 6-2.
“I just want to help this team,” Rastovac said. “If I need to only set, I’m gonna set and that’s it. But if I can do anything else, I’m gonna do it.”
Playing without hitter Doris Wefwafwa, who missed her second straight game with the flu, Rastovac wasn’t the only Cougar to play well in her absence. Junior hitter Tracie Ford moved over to the left side and contributed 15 digs and 10 kills, and junior hitter Jacqueline Makokha led the team with 20 kills and 18 digs.
“I think everyone had a good game tonight,” Ford said. “Everyone was putting the ball down and passing. I think we all just went out and had fun with that mentality to go off of the momentum from last night.”
Then there was Rastovac, a versatile freshman who finished with 48 assists, 10 digs and seven kills. Although she was effective as always setting up teammates for points, her backset over the net kept the Bearcats out of position all night.
“I just jump to set the ball and at that moment when I jump, I want to set,” Rastovac said. “But if I saw the (blockers) not jump with me, I’m gonna do (the backset). If they jump with me, I need to set.
“If I do that, and I make the point, I’m gonna do that again ... and again ... and again. If they find a way to stop me, that’s it. And then I can change.”
Rastovac went exclusively to the jump serve against McKendree, a tool she has used with frequency the past two games. She said coach Melinda Wrye-Washington told her to use it before Rastovac’s first serve.
After losing the first two games handily, McKendree built a 6-2 lead in the third game. After Rastovac set up senior hitter Jaime Diestelkamp for a kill, Columbia College got back on track. Ford’s ace tied it at 7, and the Cougars pulled away.
“It seems like the end of the season, but we’re just getting started, really,” Wrye-Washington said. “We’re in our prime right now.”
The Cougars, who played for the second night in a row, travel to Fulton for this weekend’s Taco Bell Invitational. Columbia College plays twice today and twice Saturday. Wrye-Washington said playing a difficult schedule was important because the team needed time to work out problems before the postseason in November.
“We needed to get thrown into the fire pretty quickly in order to be prepared for the postseason,” she said. “If we have to pick up a couple loses at the beginning of the season, then it’s gonna be well worth it at the end.”